Open Enrollment – Take 2

The next Marketplace open enrollment will be part sequel and part new production! With a mere 166 days until show time, there’s much to be done to get ready for the next curtain call on November 15, 2014.

First, a look back is in order because there’s nothing like a full dress rehearsal to learn whether or not the performance is ready for its debut. Three weeks into the initial open enrollment in 2014, technology problems (more than opening day jitters and huge lines at the box office) upstaged the promise of health reform. The critics’ panning of the new health insurance marketplaces illuminated flaws in the main stage event – Healthcare.Gov – and added fuel to the political posturing that has plagued the health reform law since the beginning. Despite a premiere that deserved the critical reviews it received, the show must go on as I wrote in this blog. And indeed it did. When the curtain dropped, there was standing room only. More than 8 million people across America had enrolled in the new health insurance marketplaces. And another 6 million (wait for it…the next report is coming soon) gained coverage through Medicaid. Bravo for a job well done!

But there’s no time to relish the accolades as we prepare for “Open Enrollment, Take 2,” which I write about in the June issue of “Health Affairs.” As for the sequel, improving the consumer experience and boosting sales at the box office top the to-do list. Then there’s the new production part: renewals have to work efficiently to avoid the drama that accompanied the debut of Healthcare.Gov. The wish list is long, the supporting cast is limited and resources are finite, so we’ll need to be realistic about what’s doable in the next 166 days and focus on the most urgent priorities for consumers.

My “Health Affairs” article spotlights the need for higher-functioning technology, targeted outreach and enhanced consumer assistance. In the longer run, a host of product-related improvements (i.e. stronger network adequacy standards and standardizing plan benefits) would also be helpful for consumers. Going forward, if policy makers put the best interests of consumers first, if they design marketplaces and coverage options that work for consumers, it should be possible to achieve something that has eluded our country for decades: near universal access to affordable health care.